A Rookies View of the 2004 Nationals

By Mike DeMarco
(From an e-mail from Mike DeMarco after the 2004 Nationals.)

For me, NATS started a few weeks before we left for Rhode Island. I hadnít planned on attending, because I didnít have either of my ships ready. I had offered to return one of Steve Pavlovskiís batteries that he had forgotten at Regionals. When I returned the battery, we chatted about how fun regionals was, and he told me he was going to be taking Dave Vogtmanís NC to NATS. He offered to loan me his South Carolina if I wanted to go to NATS. All I needed to do was install my receiverÖthe rest of the ship was battle-tested. I jumped at the opportunity. Over the next few weeks, I got my Polk radio working with the ship. At the last minute, Steve told me I hadnít sealed my receiver correctly, so I hastily ďfixedĒ the problem, but didnít test things again. The first of many lessons was about to be learned.

Sunday morning, I got to Pavís house a little after 5am, so we could roll over to Daveís then up to RI. Usually I sleep whenever I get in a car and donít have to drive, but the conversation and companionship kept me awake, even though I had been out late the night before and was running on 3 hours of sleep. We stopped at this place in Connecticut, Patís Kountry Kitchen. Talk about small portionsÖwe were all a bit disappointed in the place. We arrived in Johnston around 1:30 and most of the set up was completed. We unloaded and began to get some of the testing out of the way. Drop tests were performed, and the South Carolina (Masquerading as the USS Michigan) passed, although by a narrow margin. Then it was time to test the regulator. Although it had been good for regionals, it tested a bit high. So, Pav showed me how to take the regulator apart, and remove one of the shims in there to lower the PSI. Now it tested low. So, it was take the regulator apart, and clean it up good. After cleaning and oiling, the regulator seemed to be working much better. Good. Now its time to get ready to speed check, right? Wrong. I put the batteries in, and I have no rudder! What on earth is wrong? Everything worked GREAT a week ago, and I havenít done anything that could have affected that, right? Wrong. I resealed my receiver at the last minute, and never retested it. One of the connectors had come loose, but I didnít know. I finally tracked the problem down, and got ready to throw her in the water. I was kind of nervous, because my Polk had shown a tendancy to not want to work well if it hadnít been charged the night before. The problem reared its ugly head again, just as I was about to get my speed check done, when the ship went dead in the water, and wouldnít respond. My transmitterís power was low I knew, and figured this was the culprit. Tomorrow would be better, because the transmitter would be fully charged.

That night, we all got settled into the hotel room, and after a little bit of charging, I retested my shipÖeverything appeared to be workingÖI felt justified in my belief that she would be ready to meet the challenge of the following day.

Monday. The day of truth. My first real battle was about to begin, and USS Michigan was fully combat ready. I was excited. I knew I was a pretty maneuverable ship, and at 28 seconds I wouldnít be outrunning anyone. Having watched Matt Moury battle his Baden at regionals, I figured that was one 28 second ship I didnít want any part of. So it looked like my prey would be Camís Nassau and Kevinís Espana. I definitely didnít want any part of Musashi, and knew I could turn away from the Derfs. The plan was to stay with the slow fleet, and assist them, but I soon found myself getting in the way, rather then helping the other slow boats. More times then I can remember Dave or Don had to abort an attack because the clumsy captain of the Michigan got in the way. Not wanting to be a detriment, I moved off by myself a little bit, and soon Cam came my way. This was going to be a little more to my liking I thought, as I wouldnít have to worry about how to work well with othersÖI could maneuver my ship and only worry about not ramming the enemy ship. Well, lets just say that Cam took me to school. I very rapidly realized I was outmatched by his skill, and at the first opportunity turned away and ran. Fortunately he couldnít catch me either. So I ended up playing with Kevinís Espana. I hadnít learned yet, that I had a lot more to learn then I thought I had, so I got aggressive again. Kevin maneuvered his ship well, and I got very few shots at him. I did manage to put a nice hole in his bow with one of very few openings offered, but that was about all. I finally ran out of ammo and called 5, feeling pretty good. I had survived my first sortie.

The second sortie, never happened for me, and I learned a valuable lesson. I launched my ship, and forgot to turn on my gas. Rather then head out and begin pumping, I calmly waited for Bill G to launch his ship so I could come in and turn my gas on. Since Bill was standing right there, I didnít want to turn my pump on and shoot him in the face, so I just waited. Once Bill cleared the area I turned by pump on, but it was too late. Michigan was low aft and started to roll, but appeared to pump herself out. She looked right so I started to bring her back in to turn on the gas, and she abruptly rolled and sank by the stern. There must have been more water inside then I didnít suspect was still there, and shifted when I made a move. I quickly retrieved her, and looked inside. There was water in both waterproof boxes, so even though Pav urged me to launch anyways and call 5 right away so I could get sortie credit, I didnít want to risk damage to the ship. Since War hadnít been declared yet, and I wasnít completely sure why I had sunk, I chose to withdraw. I wasnít really concerned with sortie average anyways. Unfortunately, I got a penalty for withdrawing which cost my fleet as if I had combat sunk. In retrospect, I guess I should have made sure the pump was on, launch and go on 5 immediately, and then pull the ship out and determine the problem. It would have been the best move for the fleet as a whole.

I opened her up, and began drying her out to make sure I was ready for the afternoon battle. Everything seemed to work, so we threw some silicon on the box, and I readied myself for the afternoon battle.

The afternoon battle was here, and I felt armed with my new lesson about turning on the pump for the second sortie right away. I launched for the first sortie, and went after Espana again. It seemed like a much better idea then going after the Baden or Nassau. Problems stuck soon after though, as I lost propulsion. I have no idea. I just started drifting, right up against the beach. Seale was watching me, and telling me to move, and I replied simply that I couldnít. I went on 5 out of control, and it seemed like there was a waiting list to shoot at me. Both of the Derfs lined up on me, and the Baden was pelting me with sidemounts. Pav in his Washington, and Don with South Carolina came to my rescue; at onetime Washington put herself between me and the other attackers like a balsa shield. The Axis ships seemed to disperse and Michigan drifted out away from the beach. Suddenly, I had propulsion back. I came off 5 out of control, and since I didnít feel like I was going to sink, so I didnít call regular 5, until I was out of ammo. I had survived, somehow.

I launched in the second sortie, but I wasnít to last long. I fired a few shots at the Espana or Kronprinz (I cant recall which) then suddenly, they called man in the water. Daveís SC had bought the farm. I looked at the Michigan, and asked Pav if she looked a bit low to him. We decided I should go on 5 as soon as I could. Thatís about the time Carl pointed at the Michigan and mentioned to someone (I think it was an observer) ďThat one is going to go soonĒ. That reinforced my desire to go on 5 ASAP. As I waited, getting increasingly anxious, before war started again, Man in the Water! Is called again. Alabama was gone. No No No! I screamed in my mind. Come on guys, hurry. Finally, as soon as war is called, I announced Michigan on 5, but the vultures were smelling blood and moved in for the kill. Carlís Musashi caught me, and I panicked. I was unable to turn away, and ate dual sidemounts. I tried to run, and as I shot at persuers, I think I inadvertently turned off my pump. It was just a few seconds, but I sank with relatively light damage, all things being considered. It must have been enough to ensure my doom. I finally was able to turn in towards shore, with Mattís Baden pounding me. I knew I was toast, and was just trying to get to the Dragonís Teeth before I went down. It didnít happen. I was close, but sank in about 3 feet of water. Go figure, the half hearted attempt at waterproofing failed again. This time, the servos were glitching pretty bad, so I knew I would have to open them and dry them out good.

Upon returning to the hotel room I opened everything up, and got it on the road to drying. Pav told me I should put my receiver into the box as it was only protected by a balloon. When I removed it from the balloon, it was soaked. This was the beginning of the end for this receiver. It was to never operate correctly again, but I didnít know that. Since everything was going to be drying tonight, it looked like assembly was going to happen at the lake tomorrow during the first sortie, but I would be able to battle the second sortie and get my first taste of campaign.

Tuesday. Tuesday started off with me trying to reassemble the Michigan in time for later battles. I started off with a slight receiver problem; the Polk lost its channel. Marty helped me get it reset, as he had more experience then I did with the radio and I couldnít remember precisely how to do it. I didnít want to take the time to experiment until I got it, as I wanted to get out and battle as soon as possible. The day before had been humbling, and I felt bad about getting Pavís ship sunkÖ2 of the servos needed to be replaced, and mine wouldnít work. I got everything finally re-assembled and ready to go, but it took longer then I thought. I missed all of the morning battle. So, I geared up for campaign. I had a mission, and I was pumped up. Pav made an effort to make sure all the Allied rookies felt important, and I felt like I was going to be contributing to my fleet, finally. It wasnít to be. My receiver crapped out right before we were to launch. I had no ship. Once again, I was letting my fleet down, as I told Pav I couldnít launch and someone else would have to engage cargo ships. My spirits were kinda down at this point, as I wasnít having much success at all. It was my own fault to be sure, but no one likes to fail. Don told me I could run his liberty ship, while he ran the Hornet. At least I might be able to get some convoy runs in. I sailed around while Matt pounded the Hornet into the grave. My time was just coming up right as Matt sank Hornet, and turned his attention to me. Not knowing exactly what to do, I tried to evade him and turn away. Don, with Hornet down, now took over and brought the ship straight in. I had been afraid I would sink doing that with no pump. Another lesson learned. Things were about to go from bad to worse though. Pav told me to run his convoy ship after it was patched up. He then launched his Washington and headed out. Rob, and I took the John Brown back to patch. I went to grab by big sheet of silkspan (that came with the Inflexible I am building) so I could patch her up, and apparently it had blown out of my toolbox. Great, Tuesday, and I didnít even have any silkspan left. I later found it in the lake. Anyhow, Rob did most of the patching on the JB while I searched in vain for my silkspan. I got back right before Rob finished and we went down to launch. Here was my next mistake. I didnít realize the John Brown and the Washington were on the same frequency, and I went out. Disaster was about to strike. I had Nassau chasing me, I believe, and attempted to moss his props near some lily pads. Suddenly, I lost rudder control. Rather then cut around the lily pads, I went right through them. About this time, Pav goes on 5 out of controlÖhe has no idea why he canít move. It took about 10 seconds, then he shouted WHO THE HELL HAS MY CONVOY SHIP OUT HERE ON MY FREQUENCY! Now I really felt horrid. Neither of us can move. Pav realizes what the problem is and shuts off his transmitter, to allow JB to continue. By this time, shes dead in the water with fouled props and rudder locked hard to starboard. This isnít going to happen. I told Pav I was dead in the water, and couldnít recover. He had me shut off my transmitter so he could at least use the Washington while the Derfflinger used the JB for target practice. JB was rather obviously sunk. Another of Pavís ships bought the farm because of me. At this point I was 2 for 3 of getting his ships sunk. I hadnít gotten the Washington sunk, yet, but I was about to get my chance, little did I know. As the battle was winding down, Pav had me take over the Washington. I thought he battle was over, so I was basically just cruising around. I was under the impression I was just holding the controller more or less while Steve took care of something else. The Axis fleet abruptly reminded me that we were still at war. I think they thought that Steve was still driving, and they moved in for the kill. Musashi and Hindenburg were on each side sidemounting me like crazy. Having only driven the Michigan so far, I didnít realize how to best use the Washingtonís best assetÖspeed. I tried to turn across Hindenburgís bow to get away from Carlís dual side mounts. The Axis gleefully turned with me and continued to hammer me. I asked where the pump switch was because I didnít even know. I thought I was just cruising around basically. I got ripped to shreds but somehow survived. I think Pav took over again, but I donít recall. By now, my confidence was completely shredded. Iíd gotten 2 of Steveís ships sunk, screwed up and launched at the same time as him, got his third ship shredded, and almost sunk Donís cargo ship as well. Life was not good. I decided right then and there that I wasnít getting anyone elseís ship sunk ever again. Enough was enough. I decided to try and do an emergency refit of the HMS Courageous, which I had brought along.

That night, I got so much help from so many people it was unreal. Tom Tanner who had his Okinoshima to work on put it aside to help me get Courageous going. Matt Moury loaned me a servo, and got my pump working. Dave Vogtman loaned me an already waterproofed servo. Tom loaned me some Clippard fittings, and worked on my boat till around 3am. Wednesday was night battle, so I would be able to dedicate most of Wed to finishing her up.

Wednesday. On Wednesday, somehow I was awarded the Axis Spirit award. I donít think I deserved it, because I had no spirit at all after Tuesday. I am positive Carl gave it to me in an attempt to pick me up, not because I had earned it. Wednesday was spent finishing up the Courageous. It was found that my Receiver was totally dead, and Carl generously loaned me his spare Polk receiver. Ken Kelly in between battles got my rotate cannon working well. That was the bright spot of the Courageous. Everyone seemed pretty impressed with Kenís work on that. I was just proud to have my own ship ready to go. The pump was hard wired on, so I wouldnít have to worry about turning it on or off. I skipped night battle, because I was afraid I would get sunk and not be able to find my ship in the darkness. To be honest, at that point I really felt sinking was about the only thing I WAS good at. I spent night battle armed with a flashlight helping people clear moss and check rams. I tried to be helpful as possible since I didnít feel I was contributing in any other way then running up the Axis score sheet.

Thursday. Thursday was to be probably the most successful I was for all of NATS. At least I didnít sink, although I should have. Courageous performed relatively well. Her guns fired, she turned as well as Courageous can turn, and she was dead on speed. In the first sortie, I tried to line up the stern guns but with the Courageousí poor tactical radius, it was difficult. I had my best gunnery success when Tomís Hindenburg chased me a little and I was able to weave and occasionally get the sterns on target. Iím not convinced however, that Tom didnít let me have those shots as freebies. I also got some free shots in on Davidís Kronprinz while he was on 5 because he wanted to see the rotate work. At that stage of the game, I figured I would take what was offered. Tom had landed some good sidemounts on me earlier when I wasnít able to get away, and taught me why I shouldnít play sides with Hindenburg. He shredded my waterline with about 5 ons and a few belows.

For the second sortie, Dave recommended that I go on 5 right away because of the damage from the first battle. Pav said I should make up my own mind. I decided that I would be OK, and went out to fight. I ended up fighting the Derfflinger and suddenly my pump stopped (hard wired on, remember?) and I began to list. Ken told me to bring it in, and he wouldnít shoot at me. I immediately went on 5, and waited out my 5 with the list. After a few minutes the pump started up again. I waited out my 5 nervously. I kept the bow into the wind to try and keep her from rolling over accidentally. I brought her in, and found that my pump screen was clogged up with all kinds of balsa and a chunk of my internal armor. Note to self: get rid of that crappy armor. Because of the Axis generosity (Tom told everyone not to sink me, he didnít put all that time into Courageous just to see her get suck in her first battle) I had managed to survive an entire battle. It seemed somewhat tainted because the Axis was using kid gloves with me by this point, but it was nice to not sink.

For the afternoon, campaign came up again. My mission was to intercept the Graf Zeppelin. I think everyone knew I wasnít going to sink it, but at this stage, I think Pav just wanted me out of the way where I couldnít really hurt anything. I almost managed to screw this up too. When it came time to launch, my pump wouldnít work. I had a definitely loose connection as I could jiggle it around and it would come on. I figured I should launch anyways, and since people probably wouldnít be coming after a warship I could dump my load and go on 5. I made a few passes with my side mount as I couldnít get the stern to bear, but as we got close to the enemy base I was desperately trying to line up my shot. Now I should probably explain a little bit about how well things were working. When I got Courageous going, the only issue I had was the throttle was reversed. Back was forwards, and forward was reverse. I didnít think it would be a big problem. I was wrong. As I attempted to line up on the Zeppelin, I was facing the base with my stern. The plan was to go forward with right rudder and bring the aft end around so I could rake the Zeppelin. Because of my throttle being backwards however, I accidentally went full reverse right into the enemy base. I hit this rock so hard that I high-centered with the rudder on top of this rock, with my screws half out of the water. I couldnít move, and I was blocking the enemy base. Tom said that he should have me declared sunk, but since I was a rookie he would take it easy. ďJust get it outĒ he said. I thought he meant get it out of the water, so I pulled it out and took it to the bench. This was fine with me, because I knew I didnít have a pump anyways. I found out later that he meant just get it out of the base so the Zeppelin could come in. This misunderstanding almost led to an argument between Pav and Tom because I told Pav I had been declared sunk because I backed into the enemy base. Pav was heated because apparently the Espana had gone into the Allied base and felt I was being treated unfairly. I tried to explain that I didnít want to go out anyways because my pump failed. I didnít find out until later that Tom and meant just get my boat out of the base, not the battle.

Little did I know, but my battling was now over.

That night, Pav helped me repair the loose connection on my pump. It turned out to be a loose connector. I also about to learn another very valuable lesson. Do not leave your batteries plugged in over night. I didnít know better at the time, so I left the battery in that I had been using to test the pump. The pump was physically disconnected so there was no draw on the batteryÖso I thought. Well, since all stories go somewhere, this one will re-start on Friday.

Friday started off with a bang. Or maybe a sizzle. Pav wakes up, hearing this hissing noise. The first thing that comes to mind is ďIs he peeing on the floor?Ē. Then he looks over and sees the yellow smoke billowing from inside the Courageous, then the reddish glow. Thatís about the time I wake up to ďITS ON FIRE!Ē I jumped out of bed, still mostly asleep and started looking for water. Conscious, I know that water is the worst thing to do to an electrical fire, but I wasnít thinking. Anyways, Pav carries it outside. There is smoke everywhere. Itís a wonder the fire alarms didnít go off. At the time, I just felt relived that it was the Courageous, which fried, and not the South Carolina. Better my own ship. That morning, I spent ripping out and testing all the borrowed components I had in the ship and returning them to their rightful owners. The afternoon was spent helping tear things down while the ring of death was going on. Once everything was packed up, we went back to the hotel, and began to get ready to leave in the morning.

That evening we did the awards banquet. The food was excellent. Then we handed out awards. Don was gracious enough to say that there were 3 good rookies, but really in my mind, only Rob and Dave Simmons deserved to be mentioned. I seriously had done nothing worth mention the entire week I was there. I tried to keep my spirits up, but I think I failed. I honestly got the impression that most people were pretty irritated with me by the time the week was over. For that, I sincerely apologize. Hopefully I am wrong on that, and the club will welcome my continued participation. If not, please feel free to let me know that you as a group feel I do not fit in well, and I will make sure that I donít cause any more issues.

So, you may ask, how I could honestly say I enjoyed myself after all the misfortunes I experienced while I was there? The answer is the people. I wasnít lying when all was said and done that I had a good time. Even now, the memory of disappointment is fast fading, while the good memory of the helpfulness remains. Itís easy to forget how bad I felt when I got he JB sunk, and got the Washington pummeled. The memory of what I did wrong remains, but the despair of dragging my fleet down is sliding away. The memory of several captains coming together to try and get my own ship working on Tuesday and Wednesday, and donating parts to help me remains strongly. They could have easily left me to my own devices to hope I could make it work, then pummel me into the grave the next day when my pump would have failed, assuming I could even get the ship to work. They chose not to, they chose to try and get me out battling and to try to get me to have a good time. For that I am grateful. For that, I say the week was a positive.

Mike ďSparkyĒ DeMarco
HMS Courageous

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